Cancer 'tsar' is given powers to shake up NHS  

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A cancer specialist will be named today as Britain's "cancer tsar", with a brief to shake up cancer care in the National Health Service and with the power to issue orders to civil servants at the Department of Health.

A cancer specialist will be named today as Britain's "cancer tsar", with a brief to shake up cancer care in the National Health Service and with the power to issue orders to civil servants at the Department of Health.

Alan Milburn, the Secretary of State for Health, has appointed Professor Mike Richards, ofGuy's and St Thomas' hospitals in London, to report to ministers on ways of improving cancer treatment.

It is the first time that the Government has given such powers to a doctor, seconded from the health service, and is intended to underline the importance attached to the role.

One of Professor Richards' first tasks will be to fulfil the commitment that all women with suspected breast cancer are able to see a specialist within two weeks of seeing their family doctor. He will also be asked to ensure that national standards on ovarian cancer are met.

Officials said last night that he will have Mr Milburn's authority to visit hospitals across the country. He will want to find out whether they are meeting recommendations made in 1995 under the Conservatives that cancer patients should be able to see cancer specialists in centres of excellence. "The report set out a blueprint for cancer services to be concentrated in specialist units. Under the Tory internal market in the NHS, there was no way of driving through this reorganisation," said a Whitehall source.

"The result of that is that women with ovarian cancer are still not being seen in specialist units in some parts of the country.

"Dr Richards will be given the power and will have the clout to overcome the inertia and vested interests among a few consultants who have resisted the modernisation."

Professor Richards will be seconded to the Department of Health. Mr Milburn said: "I am making cancer services a personal priority for the NHS. Professor Richards is being given a specific mandate to speed up the modernisation of cancer services. It may take five to ten years to achieve world-class cancer care, but I want to see a step change for the NHS over the next few years."

Mr Milburn last week announced measures to improve cardiac care in the NHS, with £50m for tackling geographical inequalities in the spread of specialist heart units.

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